Senator Jim DeMint, (R-SC) says he will force a showdown next week with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-KY), and other old guard Republicans over "earmarked" pet projects that DeMint says are a symbol of out–of–control deficit spending. The South Carolina Republican, buoyed by support from six GOP freshmen, is optimistic he'll win a change in internal GOP rules to effectively bar any Republican from seeking earmarks. "Americans want Congress to shut down the earmark favor factory, and next week I believe House and Senate Republicans will unite to stop pork barrel spending," DeMint said.
McConnell, however, isn't enthusiastic about the idea of a ban now. And he finds himself caught in the middle of an unwelcome battle dividing his party and opening it to criticism from anti–pork tea party activists who helped Republicans take back the House and elect several anti–earmark senators. The issue of earmarks has Oklahoma’s two U.S. Senators on opposite sides. Senator Inhofe is for keeping earmarks as part of the budget process and Senator Coburn is for eliminating them.
Inhofe claims eliminating earmarks will not save taxpayers money and that part of the responsibility of being a member of Congress is to ‘bring home the bacon.’ In an editorial that appeared in several publications, Senator Jim Inhofe wrote, “a ban on earmarks doesn’t save one dime. It does, however, do three things: (1) It trashes the Constitution and violates our oath of office; (2) It cedes Congress’s power to authorize and appropriate to the president, and (3) It gives cover to big spending. It is hard to imagine that our founders were misguided when they gave Congress, those closest to the will of the people, the power of the purse under Article 1 of the Constitution. “ Inhofe has also widely distributed his argument to keep earmarks to Tea Party activists across the country. The RNC has a video on their website of an interview with Senator Inhofe. It is worth watching. Access it at http://rncnyc2004.blogspot.com/2010/11/james-inhofe-about-earmarks-video.html
Senator Tom Coburn, on the other hand, wrote an op-ed for National Review that said, “I would encourage my colleagues to consider four myths and four realities of the debate on earmarks. The four myths are, (1) Eliminating earmarks does not actually save any money, (2) Earmarks represent a very tiny portion of the federal budget and eliminating them would do little to reduce the deficit, (3) Earmarking is about whose discretion it is to make spending decisions. Do elected members of Congress decide how taxes are spent, or do unelected bureaucrats and Obama administration officials? (4) The Constitution gives Congress the responsibility and authority to earmark. “
Both of Oklahoma’s US Senators are conservatives and are honorable men, but this issue must be weighed against the U.S Constitution, not tradition, personal preference or perceived efficiencies. Are earmarks constitutional as Senator Inhofe claims or are they a 'distraction' as Senator Coburn claims?
Earmarking is not a new concept and it was something the founders faced. According to Americans for Prosperity, the idea of funneling federal funds to specific local projects (earmarks) started with Congressman John C. Calhoun. He proposed the Bonus Bill of 1817 to construct highways linking the East and South of the United States to its Western frontier (referred to as “internal improvements”). Calhoun wanted to use the earnings bonus from the Second Bank of the United States specifically for this program, arguing that the General Welfare and Post Roads clauses of the United States Constitution allowed for it.
President James Madison vetoed Calhoun’s bill as unconstitutional. In his veto message Madison said, “Having considered the bill, I am constrained by the insuperable difficulty I feel in reconciling this bill with the Constitution of the United States. The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified in the Constitution, and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers. “